OBG Limited and others v Allen and others (also known as Douglas and Another v Hello! Limited and others) [2007] UKHL 21

This House of Lords judgment covers two separate areas of the law; privacy/confidence and the scope of the economic torts of (a) causing loss by unlawful means and (b) inducing breach of contract.

The Economic Torts

The House of Lords confirmed that the torts of causing loss by unlawful means and inducing breach of contract (also called the Lumley v Gye tort) were distinct torts, thus restoring the separation between the causes of action identified by Lord Watson in Allen v Flood [1898] AC 1.

Lord Hoffmann characterised the torts as follows:

Inducing Breach of Contract:

A breach of contract between the potential claimant and a third party, induced by the defendant (who is not a party to the contract), where that defendant knows that its actions will lead to breach of a specific contract of which it has knowledge.

Causing Loss by Unlawful Means:

This tort consists of acts intended (by the defendant) to cause loss to the claimant by interfering with the freedom of a third party in a way which is unlawful against that third party and which is intended to cause loss to the claimant.

With respect to intention, Lord Hoffmann reiterated the fact that the defendant can intend to cause loss to the potential claimant even though that loss is caused by the means by which the defendant achieved the end of enriching him or herself. He also stated that the defendant will not be liable for loss which is neither a desired end nor a means of attaining it, but merely a foreseeable consequence of the defendant's actions.

Lord Hoffmann considered that for the means to be considered as unlawful, they must be actionable at law by the third party, but there will be no liability for acts which do not affect the third party’s ability to deal with the claimant.


In a majority decision, Lord Hoffmann confirmed that the criteria set out by Megarry J in Coco v AN Clark (Engineers) Ltd [1969] RPC 41 @ 47 is still good law in respect of assessing whether or not a breach of confidence has occurred.

He also confirmed that the benefit of the obligation of confidence (in this case in relation to photographic images of a wedding) could be purchased by a third party (in this case by OK! from the Douglases) and that the obligation of confidence could then be enforced by that third party where the criteria in Coco v AN Clark are met.

Lord Hoffmann reiterated that one should not confuse the cause of action set out by the House of Lords in Campbell v MGN Ltd [2004] 2 AC 457 (and enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights) with the protection of commercially confidential information.